Cemeteries have recently suffered in terms of their meaning in the modern world. Once the height of social status, many have fallen into decline and have been seen as a financial burden whereas the most forward looking see them for what they are – a unique library of social history and a much-loved green space for people to walk in and enjoy, while also providing a welcome habitat for wildlife,
How, might you ask yourself, could someone spend two hours wandering around a cemetery (and not see everything!!) That is exactly what happened to me today as I visited the Brompton Cemetery, only a 15 drive from home, yet a place I have never been to until today, although I must have driven past it millions of times.
Brompton is one of the more architectural cemeteries, opened in 1840 with neoclassical buildings as the centrepiece of what was intended from the very start to be a garden for the public to enjoy in addition to being the last resting place for local people of all status. Strangely, and uniquely it is managed by Royal Parks, though there are no British royalty there that I could see.
Among the rich collection of funeral statuary, the most interesting designs are those which reflect their era such as the Art Nouveau monuments for Horace Lot (died in 1896) and Gilbert Laye (died 1926), the Byzantine design for Val C Prinsep (died 1904), the Celtic metalwork for Frederick Richards Leyland (died 1890) and the Celtic cross for Charles Edward Ricketts Robinson Priest.
Monuments to search out are those to the 2625 Chelsea Pensioners buried nearby between 1855 and 1893, to Emily Pankhurst (died 1928), Dr John Snow (died 1858) who discovered that cholera was spread by infected drinking water, Blanche Roosevelt Macchetta, Marchesa D’Allegri (died 1898) and the Brigade of Guards Monument surrounded by military graves including many from the Scots and Irish Guards.
There are catacombs underneath, but these were not popular due to a rumour that bodies explode when sealed in lead coffins (actually, they don’t, they turn to liquid – don’t ask me why I know that, but I know…..!!)
With the stands of Chelsea Football Club at Stamford Bridge appearing above the monuments along with a few other modern buildings, the Cemetery is a peaceful green space full of social history, popular with runners and a haven for wildlife, though the crows are as sinister as in Alfred Hitchcock’s famous film….
It must also be one of the few cemeteries which has a tea room – how enterprising is that! Is this something that other cemeteries could adopt, or would that be considered sacrilege…. Brompton was apparently always ahead of the game….even with a memorial that is also a sundial. How cool is that?